May 22, 2017: It actually started with a tee shot that found the water at the 17th hole last week at THE PLAYERS Championship. Billy Horschel had just suffered the same fate as many others who’ve missed the island green at TPC Sawgrass. It had been a frustrating day, a roller coaster second round, one that would end with his fourth consecutive missed cut in a season that was rapidly unraveling.
After hitting from the drop zone, Horschel began making the trek toward the green and a looming double bogey. That’s when his caddie Josh Cassell made a remark that now seems uncannily prescient.
“You know what? We’re going to go next week to Dallas, to the Byron Nelson – and we’re going to win,” Cassel told Horschel.
Horschel didn’t dismiss the remark as merely a confidence-booster on a bad hole. He thought there was something more tangible, more significant to it.
“He didn’t say it just to say it,” Horschel said. “He saw something.”
On Sunday, he fulfilled his caddie’s promise, beating world No. 3 Jason Day on the first playoff hole to claim the AT&T Byron Nelson, his first victory since winning the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup in 2014. It ended unexpectedly and abruptly, with Day missing a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have extended the playoff after both players finished at 12 under in regulation.
But perhaps more unexpected – at least to everybody but his caddie and perhaps the rest of their team – was Horschel’s mere presence in the playoff. He had come to the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in the midst of his least productive stretch on the PGA TOUR since his rookie season of 2011 when he missed 14 cuts in 25 starts.
His practice sessions were good, but he couldn’t translate it to competition days. He was sidelined for big tournaments, didn’t play the Masters Tournament this year, vowed he wouldn’t watch – and then couldn’t help himself. His confidence, always high, was severely tested.
“The conscious mind sort of tries to knock you off your pedestal,” Horschel said, “but the subconscious is shown in the conscious mind, and that was trying to keep reminding myself that, hey, you’re a great player, you can do this.”
So now it’s Friday of THE PLAYERS. Horschel has found the water at 17, has just signed for a 4-over 76, has just missed the cut in his hometown event. And yet a feeling of calmness came over him. The score didn’t reflect it, but he had just turned the corner with his game.
His ball-striking – the thing he does best, the thing that fueled his FedExCup run three years ago – was finally back in rhythm. During his missed-cut stretch, Horschel’s swing had been revved up. “Amped up by 10 times,” his coach, Todd Anderson, told him.
In the second round at TPC Sawgrass, the swing finally slowed down. It felt more like how Horschel should be swinging. It was a sense of relief.
“I felt at peace,” Horschel said. “… I walked off the course with a sense of I didn’t feel like compared to three other missed cuts I had.”
But did he think he would win this week? Not exactly. Only Cassell predicted that.
Perhaps there were other factors at work. After all, it’s been a rather interesting stretch.
Before finding the water on the 17th hole that Friday at TPC Sawgrass, Horschel was upset about a missed shot on the 13th hole when his shot bounced into the water. Horschel tossed a club at this bag after finishing the hole, and the video went viral, some people assuming he was upset or showing up his caddie. Horschel felt compelled to address the situation on his Twitter account the next day in hopes of clearing the air. It was a terrific move, as he didn’t allow the situation to fester.
Then on Sunday, Australian John Senden – who lives in the Dallas area — showed up at TPC Four Seasons with his son Jacob. Senden has taken a leave of absence from the TOUR to be with his son, who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. This week, players wore Rubik’s Cube patches on their caps; it’s Jacob’s favorite toy.
Guess who used to caddie for Senden? Josh Cassell. In fact, Cassell went to Senden’s house on Thursday. Horschel saw Senden and his son on the range Sunday before his round and said hello. Obviously, Horschel’s win is also Cassell’s win … and by extension, maybe it’s also an uplifting moment for Senden and Jacob.
Approached on Sunday after Horschel’s win, Cassell appreciated receiving words of congratulations but preferred not to discuss the win. You got the feeling he might break down emotionally.
Even Horschel felt the way. His three previous wins – even the back-to-back ones that fueled his FedExCup victory – never felt like this, he said. “It’s really surreal,” Horschel said, adding, “I’m sort of speechless.”
Anybody who knows Horschel knows that doesn’t happen often. Or ever.
Until this week, nothing had really ever happened for Horschel in this event. In his two previous starts, he had missed the cut both times; in fact, he was a cumulative 26 over in his four rounds. TPC Four Seasons didn’t seem to like him. And he didn’t like it.
But he will now go down as the last winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson at this course. Next year the tournament moves to its new location, Trinity Forest, a course Horschel has never seen but looks forward to playing.
On Sunday, though, the last call at TPC Four Seasons belonged to him.
“I was never a fan of this course,” Horschel said, “Now I am and I won — and I don’t want to leave.”